24.11.2010 - 25.11.2010
Day 70 Wednesday 24 November - “Cruise Day 11 – At Sea”
The clocks have been set forward by an hour as we sail Eastward. Before dawn under a leaden sky we sailed past Stromboli Island – one of three active volcanoes in Italy. Later in the morning we sailed into the Messina Strait, the body of water dividing the toe of Italy from the island of Sicilia. The sun broke free from the clouds and I managed to shoot off a few photos.
It took about an hour to pass through the Strait. As we turned to Port – East – another of Italy's volcanoes came into view. The light conditions were far from perfect but we did get a good look at Mt Etna, the top clad in snow and shrouded in clouds.
After lunch we attended the Latitude Party in the Spinnaker Lounge. To start proceedings the Captain made an announcement to the effect that we would NOT be docking in Athens on Thursday because a general strike had been called and there would be limited or no public facilities available. He also felt there was a possible threat to the safety of the passengers if they went ashore. As an alternative we will be calling in at Heraklion, the capital of Crete.
We attended an interesting talk on the Greek Gods and the ancient mythologies. After dinner we sat through a shrill rendition of Beatles songs. I'm no expert but the guitars with all their amplification drowned out the mediocre voices of the group calling themselves “Beatles Celebration”. They tried very hard and received appropriate applause for their efforts.
Day 71 Thursday 25 November - “Cruise Day 12 – Heraklion”
The ship arrived on schedule and was docked by about 9:30, we had a fairly late breakfast and decided to do about an hour ashore. The shuttle took us to the port entrance and we managed to avoid most of the taxi drivers. One of them was more persistent than his cousins, he was looking for two people to make up a party of eight – no, sorry, not interested. He herded us towards a group of four Chinese and an Afro-American mother and daughter. The mother had made the arrangements over the internet last night. She almost begged us to join the tour.
Well, a lady in distress has always been a soft touch with us, so we went along for the ride. The two taxis were both late model Mercedes cars and immaculately maintained. Our driver Lefteris piloted us around the city, stopped at impossible places and gave us ample time to photograph the main cathedral. He then parked at the head of the market area in the old town. We walked for a while and on return to the appointed place he'd collected ten chairs at a local cafe and we were treated to local pastries and coffee or soft drink. One is a shortcrust sweet cake with goat's cheese and the other a delicate turn-over filled with spinach, both very tasty.
When we tried to leave we were caught up in a student protest march – sound familiar?? Eventually we broke free and with considerable driving skill he squeezed us past a gridlock of buses, trucks, taxis and motor scooters. Much waving of arms and a few choice words we made our way to the highest point of the old city wall. A magnificent view over the city and the site of the monument to Nikos Kazantzakis author of 'Zorbas” and “Last Temptation of Jesus Christ”. From there he took us to the ruins of the Knossos Palace where archaeologists have uncovered buildings dating back over 4,000 years.
Further out from the city we stop at an olive grove where we see how the olives are harvested. They are only small olives and grown primarily for oil production. A small percentage is processed for eating as a snack food. Past the old aqueduct and into the square of a small village where we enter a tiny cafe. The old lady produces plates of goat cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives. The olives are much sweeter than those we find in bottles at home. To top it off we're provided with a shot of the local white lightning, a traditional spirit made from grapes – it makes brandy taste like ginger beer by comparison.
Back to the port entrance where we each put in 35 €, a good day's income for him and a relatively inexpensive excursion for us.
Thanksgiving Dinner today, Jenny ordered the traditional Pumpkin soup, turkey and pumpkin cheesecake, I went against tradition and had smoked duck, pasta with veal shanks and apple tart with ice-cream.
Tonight's performance was both colourful and very energetic. We were treated to a Spanish Ballet by Maestranza, three elegant ladies and a debonair gentleman. Many costume changes and high energy dancing, castanets and fans and swirling skirts. Most enjoyable.